Ahh, Timehop and Throwback Thursday–two social media phenomena that ensure we truly are ships borne ceaselessly into the past (yes, I quoted Gatsby, and no, I do not apologize). While social media is half obsessed with reporting the insignificant minutiae of each passing moment, we are also constantly using it to reflect back on and remember things from the past. Although I am certain even our parents and grandparents occasionally reflected on who they used to be, we are all now in the unique position of being able to intentionally assault ourselves with, say, Facebook statuses our 15-year-old selves posted.
In hindsight, certain posts are hilarious, while many more are cringe worthy. Yet there is something not altogether insignificant about flipping back through time in this way, at least for me. While an alarming number of my posts were silly, vapid, and childish, some of them carry lessons that the 23-year-old me could benefit from reflecting on.
The blast from the past that inspired this post couldn’t have come at a better time. At 23, I am still trying to decide what type of person I want to be, but too often, I am fixated on the type of person I don’t want to be. 8 years ago, 15-year-old me posted a simple status update: “happy girlfriend to the best boyfriend in the world.” At that time in her life, Amanda was just beginning a relationship that would break her mentally and emotionally, that would strip away her personhood and leave her better known by “[boyfriend’s name]’s girlfriend” than by her own name. And she was THRILLED about this–it was all she’d ever wanted. Of course, this was still in the stage of roses in her locker and love poems, so I can’t say I blame her. But it’s an important reminder for the person I am now, as I reflect on the broken places I am still trying to heal.
The thing is, I put up a strong front. Many of my friends see me as a fiercely independent example of how you can live the single life without regret. Since the moment I pulled the photos off the wall and told my boyfriend of nearly two years that no, really, we were actually done, I have been fighting the integral part of myself that has always yearned more strongly for romantic love than it has for anything else. For years after I was finally able to set myself free from what had become a mentally and emotionally abusive relationship, I pushed against my soft, romantic center and tried to bury it deep. I told myself I didn’t need or want a romantic partner. While this made me feel safe at a time when I didn’t know if I could rebuild the life I had destroyed in the almost two years I let someone else call the shots, it has also built a wall that seems impenetrable both to me and to the men who might have tried to love me.
Leaving my romantic side behind has always been an impossible (and unncessary) goal. In some respects, I am STILL 15-year-old Amanda. I am stronger and more independent, yes. I am more broken and more fragile, yes. But I still cry at the end of romantic comedies and I still dream of finding that one person with whom I can feel truly at ease. Each time I meet a new man and realize we may be headed towards a partnership, I am filled with renewed optimism and hope in spite of the number of times that I have been hurt and have hurt people in return. I have often said to friends and family that I am who I am. With me, there is no front and there are no lies because I’m simply a terrible actress. This is true. Each man I have been involved with has gotten to know me as I am, because I simply don’t know how to be anyone else. I have been told that I refuse to let anyone change me, and while I take that as a great compliment, it is also a great loss–I sometimes remain closed off even to the simple change of being someone who has felt true romantic love for another person.
I carry things now that 15-year-old Amanda could never have imagined. When that young girl said yes to [boyfriend]’s question about whether she would be his girlfriend, she didn’t worry about the emotional walls that keep her from getting too close. She didn’t worry about these because she didn’t have them–she was at the start of the very situation that would eventually cause her to build them. I sometimes miss that innocence. While I have by no means had a difficult life, I have not had great success in love. I have held on to things I should have let go of and I’ve had to let go of things that I once thought would finally heal me. I have had to look good men in the face and tell them I could not love them for some reason that was unclear even to me. But weirdly enough, Timehop helped me realize what was holding me back.
As some of you know, the past month and a half has been quite actually the most difficult time in my life. I have had terrible luck and I have broken down and I have given up. Luckily, I somehow knew several months ago that I would need it, and I booked my first yoga retreat. In the stillness of just being, I was inspired to let go of what held me back and to start anew on the journey of being my best self. To that end, I have been more reflective and honest with myself in the past few weeks than I have been for a long time. I have made a promise to myself that I have made and broken a thousand times before, but one I have never embraced with such intensity–I know now that I will not fail to treat myself as I deserve going forward.
Until I can look at 15-year-old me, 16-year-old me, and 17-year-old me and forgive her for the way she let the hope of love erode her sense of self, I cannot truly love someone else. You see, I have, all this time, been afraid that that girl is still lurking inside me, waiting to emerge if I let someone in. It is that girl who holds me back when a man tries to look me in the eyes and that girl who, quite suddenly, shuts off the switch when I realize I’m getting close to someone. The girl lying in her floor clutching a teddy bear with a voice box inside it that would whisper “I love you, Sugar Bear” is vulnerable and afraid of the shell of a person she has become, and she is determined to prevent the kind of open affection and blind hope that put her in that position.
But deep down, I know that I am not her. I know that if I open myself up again, it’s possible I may get hurt. It’s possible that in trying and failing, I may hurt another, however unintentionally. And yet I also know that I will never let myself be treated like someone’s property again. For a long time, it made me sick inside, trying to remember why I would sit still at football games instead of dancing with my friends, why I would cry and beg forgiveness as my “best boyfriend in the world” played “It’s Too Late to Apologize” over the phone for some small offense like a curse word or making a YouTube video with my girlfriends. I reach inside myself and I can’t find a single connection to the person who would do that, can’t empathize with or understand her. For a while, I feared that meant I didn’t believe in love anymore. I thought it meant I could never again get to a place of openness and true willingness to love and be loved, to hurt and be hurt. But maybe, just maybe, what it actually means is that I’m stronger now.
I have lived the vast majority of my life since those days as a single woman. I have loved curling up on the couch with a pizza and I have loved living alone with my cat and Netflix. I have also sobbed and held myself in the night because no one else would. I have counted months on my fingers and wondered whether I would even remember how to kiss when the opportunity arose. I have made and tried to make rash choices to fill my deep-seated need to be loved, but I have survived them. That’s the thing about getting older–what felt like something you couldn’t surmount as a 15-year-old becomes something you know you can survive this time because you already have.
This past year has been a time of chaos and internal turmoil. I have had many near misses and several moments I look back on with complete incomprehension as I’ve tried putting on a lot of different, ill fitting hats in the dating world. I’ve tried OK Cupid, had a Tinder profile for exactly one week, and have caught myself thinking about men who I know would be as bad for me as I would be for them. I haven’t made perfect choices this year, but I am okay. I am stronger for it. I have learned what doesn’t work and I have realized that I never had to fear losing touch with the loving part of me.
Here I am, forgiving even the most incomprehensible treatment and behavior because I know that I, too, have erred. I have not loved the men I should have and I have tried to love men I shouldn’t, but I have done it all with compassion and a fragile but beating trust–that here I am, standing before the world a lonely and broken person trying not to hurt anyone, and that the world will treat me in kind. When it doesn’t, I am always shocked and briefly devastated, but I would rather have that reaction every time than sink into a place of cold indifference. Like Gigi says to Alex in “He’s Just Not That Into You”– you may not get hurt that way, but you sure don’t fall in love that way, either. I cannot and will not judge the lives of other people, but I am not a woman built for the Tinder era, and that is okay. I have threatened many a time to give up on relationships and go after the casual thing instead, but I know I never will. In spite of everything, I’m still the girl who watches the same romantic comedies over and over because she wants to believe that it all works out in the end–that somehow, all of this leads us both to the person we are meant to be and to the person who is meant to love us–even if, for the time being, that person is ourselves.